London (dpa) - When Michael Phelps received his 18th gold medal
after helping the US 4x100-metre medley relay to gold in Saturday's
final session of the Olympic swimming competition, it marked the end
of an era.
But not only that, in many ways it overshadowed the stand-out performances of several other swimmers - among them are a group of teenagers who have taken the sport to a new level.
At 17, Missy Franklin is the oldest of them. She leaves London with four gold medals and a bronze, as well as an individual world record and one as a member of the US 4x100m medley team.
Ye Shiwen, 16, managed not only to swim a world record in the 400m medley, she also managed to swim faster on the final 50m freestyle leg than Ryan Lochte, who won the men's event on the same day.
This, and the fact that her time was nearly seven seconds faster than her time from the 2011 world championships, sparked a huge debate on whether doping had been involved.
Her compatriot Sun Yang, who won the men's 400 and 1,500m freestyle and came second in the 200m and won bronze for the 4x200m relay, reacted angrily to such accusations.
"Many people say China has got so many medals because of doping but I can tell you that it is because of hard work and training. Chinese are not weaker than the USA or any other country," he said.
There were no accusations of doping when 15-year-old American Katie Ledecky won the 800m freestyle, in a time that was 20 seconds faster than the time she swum in winning the same event at the US youth champs less than a year ago.
Another teenager standing on the top was Ruta Meilutyte, 15, who won a first-ever swimming medal for Lithuania when she won the 100m backstroke.
Phelps, who added four gold and two silver to the 14 gold and two bronze he had won ahead of London, was one of the stand-out male swimmers.
The others were compatriot and friend Lochte, Sun, Chad le Clos and Yannick Agnel.
Although Lochte came nowhere near achieving his aim of seven gold medals, he won two gold, two silver and a bronze and beat Phelps in the 400m medley.
Le Clos beat Phelps in the 100m butterfly and received praise from Phelps who said the South African could become a huge star.
"He has the ability to swim different strokes and double-up in a session. I look forward to seeing how he develops over the next few years," Phelps said.
Agnel won the 100m freestyle and gold with the French team in the 4x100m relay and added silver from the 4x200m freestyle. Aged only 20, it seems likely that there will be more from him in the future.
Nine world records and 16 Olympic records were broken, with the new starting block, which allows swimmers a stronger push into the pool, being one of the reasons.
In the medal count the US achieved their best result since 1968, winning 16 gold and 33 overall. Allison Schmitt, who won three golds, a silver and a bronze, said that the reason was that they were a real team.
"At previous meets, there were times were I did not even know the names of all the other swimmers," she said. "It is very different now. We all know each other and feed off each others energy. We are real friends."
The other big winners were China, who won 9 gold and 14 overall, their best-ever result.
Among the losers were the Australians, who won just one gold and 10 overall, and Germany who went home without a medal - the first time since 1932.
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